New-York Historical Society's Bill Shannon Dictionary of New York Sports

Category Archives: Football

Mel Triplett

(Pro football.  Born, Indianola, MS, Dec. 24, 1930; died, Toledo, OH, July 2, 2002.)  A high school football, basketball, track and field, and gymnastics star, Melvin Christopher Triplett chose to attend the University of Toledo after receiving twenty-six scholarship offers to play football.  After his graduation, the Giants made him the 56th overall pick in the 1955 NFL Draft.  A fullback, Triplett spent six seasons (1955-60) with the Giants. With veteran Bobby Epps serving a six-month stint in the Army that forced him to miss the 1956 season, Triplett became the starting fullback and helped lead the Giants to the NFL Championship game, which they won, 47-7, at Yankee Stadium against Chicago.  Triplett scored the game’s first points on a 17-yard run and was voted the Giants’ offensive player of the game, leading both teams with 71 yards rushing.  Triplett contributed to the Giants’ first NFL championship since 1938 in other ways, too.  As Giants coach Jim Lee Howell said afterwards, “Without Triplett’s blocking, a lot of our plays would not have worked.” On July 1, 1961, Triplett was traded by the Giants to expansion Minnesota in a five-player deal and played for the Vikings for two seasons.  One of Triplett’s 50 grandchildren was a guard for the Toledo basketball team from 2001-05. – By Carina Sturm

Mickey Shuler

(Pro football. Born, Harrisburg, PA, Aug. 21, 1956.)  Earning varsity letters in football, basketball, and track at East Pennsboro H.S. in Enola, PA, Mickey Charles Shuler, Sr., was recruited by legendary college basketball coaches Dean Smith and Bobby Knight.  However, after receiving First Team All-State honors following a senior season in which, as a tight end, he caught a state high school record 67 passes for 1,040 yards, he opted to play football full-time for Joe Paterno at Penn State.  Shuler was a three-year letterman for the Nittany Lions. He was then drafted by the Jets with the 61st overall pick in the 1978 NFL Draft.  In his 12 seasons with the Jets, New York made the playoffs four times, and Shuler went to the Pro Bowl twice (1986, ’88).  In 2003, he was named the tight end on the Jets’ All-Time Four-Decade Team.  Over his 14-year career (the last two seasons spent with Philadelphia), Shuler caught 462 passes for 5,100 yards, with 37 touchdowns.  At one time, he caught passes in 86 consecutive games.  After retiring, Shuler co-hosted Sports Channel’s weekly Jets TV show. – By Giovanni Wu

Buddy Young

Buddy Young (Pro football.  Born, Chicago, IL, Jan. 5, 1926; died, Terrell, TX, Sept. 4, 1983.)  A small, elusive package of halfback, Claude (Buddy) Young was a thrilling part of New York pro football for five seasons with teams in two leagues based in Yankee Stadium.  As a rookie in 1947, Young first excited New York fans while returning kickoffs and punts as well as running and receiving for the New York Yankees of the All-America Football Conference, the A.A.F.C.’s Eastern division champs that season.  During the 1949 season, Young led the Yankees in scoring and rushing with a 6.5 average, but the league folded after that season.  When the Yankees were disbanded, their players were divided up among the two remaining New York N.F.L. franchises and Young wound up with the Yanks (known as the Bulldogs in 1949), who were also based at Yankee Stadium in 1950 and 1951.  In his first N.F.L. season, he averaged 4.6 yards per carry, caught 20 passes for 302 yards, returned 20 kickoffs for a startling 26.8 average, and ran back nine punts for a six-yard-per-return average.  His versatility kept him with the club as it traveled to Dallas as the Texans in 1952 and to Baltimore as the Colts in 1953.  He gained 2,727 yards on 597 N.F.L. rushes and caught 179 passes for 2,711 yards, scoring 38 touchdowns as a runner and receiver.  In 1964, Young became the first black executive hired by a major sports league when he became the N.F.L.’s director of player relations.  As a collegian in 1944, he tied Red Grange’s Illinois record for touchdowns in a season with 13.

Ventan Yablonski

Ventan Yablonski (College football.  Born, Worcester, MA, Mar. 4, 1923; died, Naperville, IL, March 1, 2008.)  A sophomore quarterback at Fordham in 1942, Ventan Constantine Yablonski became a star halfback and placekicker at Columbia after World War II.  Yablonski, a stocky 5’8”, 190 pounds, gained 637 yards rushing in two seasons (149 carries, 4.3 average) for the Lions.  He also scored an even 100 points, hitting 34 of 51 extra points, four of 12 field goals, and scoring nine touchdowns.  Yablonski’s most important kicks were the three extra points he made Oct. 25, 1947, at Baker Field when Columbia ended Army’s 32-game unbeaten streak, 21-20.  He then had a four-year N.F.L. career with the Chicago Cardinals (1948-51) and kicked three field goals in a game against the Green Bay Packers in 1949, a season in which he made five of six field goal attempts.

Alex Wojciechowicz

Alex Wojciechowicz (College Football.  Born, South River, NJ, Aug. 12, 1915; died, South River, NJ, July 13, 1992.)  Among the legendary names of New York college football, Alex Wojciechowicz is one of the greatest. He was the center and middle linebacker around whom the fabled second version of the “Seven Blocks of Granite” were built from 1935 to 1937.  During those seasons, his Fordham teams were a combined 18-2-5.  Wojciechowicz was a consensus All-America in both 1936 and 1937 and finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1937 after being tenth in 1936.  Fordham nearly earned its first Bowl bid in 1936 but lost the final game to arch rival N.Y.U. 7-6 at Yankee Stadium on Thanksgiving. In 1937, Fordham turned in a superior performance but got no Bowl bid, despite the New York writers line of “Rose Hill to the Rose Bowl.”  During the 1937 season, the Rams had five shutouts and allowed only 16 points while scoring 182.  Among those shutouts was the third straight scoreless tie with the Pittsburgh Panthers at the Polo Grounds.  Vince Lombardi was one of the “Seven Blocks” along with Leo Paquin, Johnny Druze, Al Babartsky, Nat Pierce and Ed Franco.  Lombardi later became a celebrated coach for the Green Bay Packers, but at the time, Wojciechowicz was the biggest name of the fabled group. He was the No. 1 draft choice of the Detroit Lions for whom he played from 1938 to 1946 before finishing his NFL career with the Philadelphia Eagles. He retired in 1950.

John Witkowski

John Witkowski (College football.  Born, Flushing, Queens, June 18, 1962.)  As ringmaster of an aerial circus at Columbia for three years (1981-83), John Joseph Witkowski passed for 7,849 yards with 613 completions and 56 touchdowns in 30 games.  With a 1-9 team in 1982, Witkowski was chosen Ivy League Player of the Year.  Despite his assault on the record book, his Lions teams were just 3-25-2 in three years.  Witkowski’s performances were nonetheless outstanding.  Combining primarily with wide receivers Don Lewis and Bill Reggio, Witkowski threw for five touchdowns in a game (at Dartmouth, Nov. 6, 1982), in which he passed for 466 yards in a 56-41 loss.  Earlier that same year, Witkowski became the first Columbia passer with a 400-yard game (406 versus Bucknell, Oct. 23).  He threw for 3,050 yards (29 touchdowns) in 1982 and 3,152 (23 touchdowns) in 1983.  In his senior season, the Lions played no home games, as the new Wien Stadium at Baker Field was under construction.  They played twice at Giants Stadium and once at Hofstra for “home” dates.  Witkowski was drafted (sixth round) by Detroit in 1984 and eventually played five games there (three in 1984 and two in 1988).

Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson (College football.  Born, Staunton, VA., Dec. 28, 1856; died, Washington, DC, Feb. 3, 1924.)  While some sources suggest that Thomas Woodrow Wilson was the head coach of the Princeton football team in 1878, during his senior year there, this is a gross extension of the facts.  Wilson was knowledgeable about the game, which was then in a molten state.  In 1878, his friend Earl Dodge, Princeton’s 1877 captain, and Wilson offered significant advice to the team regarding the placement of players on the field.  In 1880, when the number of players was reduced from 15 to 11, the placement concepts enumerated by Wilson and Dodge became prevalent.  His interest in the game remained unabated throughout his life and he was also a fan of baseball, which he had played.  Wilson returned to Princeton as a faculty member in 1890 and frequently spent such time as was available at football practice.  How much advice he offered in the days before full-time coaching professionals is not really known, but of his interest there is no question.  Wilson served as president of Princeton (1902-10), governor of New Jersey (1911-13), and president of the United States (1913-21).

Jayson Williams

Jayson Williams (College and pro basketball.  Born, Ritter, SC, February 22, 1968.)  A standout center at St. John’s and later ranked as one of the top rebounders in the N.B.A., Jayson Williams, one of the sport’s most voluble and quotable players, offering humorous and sometimes insightful comments on a wide range of topics.  (Example:  on his college coach, Lou Carnesecca, “He got his driver’s license on a dinosaur.”)  But his career was decimated by injury and his reputation stained for forever by death.  His pro career was severely curtailed on April 1, 1999, when he sustained a broken right kneecap, fractured tibia, and torn meniscus, receiving five screws and a plate during a five-hour surgery.  More profoundly, Williams was culpable in the killing, at his Alexandria Township, N.J., house, of limousine driver Costas (Gus) Christofi on Feb. 14, 2002.  Williams was convicted in 2004 on four counts of covering up the killing and in 2010 pleaded guilty to aggravated assault in connection with Christofi’s death.  A broken foot cost Williams much of his senior season (1989-90) at St. John’s, where he played only 13 games.  As a junior, Williams had averaged 19.5 points and 7.9 rebounds for the Redmen and was M.V.P. of the N.I.T. won by St. John’s.  He began his N.B.A. career with Philadelphia but on September 18, 1992, after two seasons with the 76ers, was traded to the Nets.  By 1995-96, he was averaging 10 rebounds a game and, the next year, had his best all-around season (13.4 points and 13.5 rebounds).  In 1997-98, Williams was the second-best rebounder in the league (13.6) and averaged 12.9 points.

Ray Wietecha

Ray Wietecha (Pro football.  Born, East Chicago, IN, Nov. 4, 1928; died, Phoenix, AZ, Dec. 24, 2002.)  An ironman center who played 124 games in a row at center for the Giants, Raymond Walter Wietecha was drafted in 1950.  Wietecha had been the all-Big 10 center for the Northwestern team that won the 1949 Rose Bowl (20-14 over California).  He played minor league baseball and served two years in the Marines.  In 1953, Wietecha became the Giants center, and he played every game for the next 10 seasons through 1962.  Wietecha was the First Team All-Pro center in 1958.  During his career, the Giants won the 1956 N.F.L. championship and five division titles (1956, 1958-59, 1961-62).  He then became an assistant coach under Vince Lombardi in Green Bay and was the offensive coordinator for the Packers’ Super Bowl champions of 1967 and 1968.  Wietecha later scouted several years for the Packers.

Arnie Weinmeister

Arnie Weinmeister (Pro football.  Born, Rhine, Sask., Mar. 23, 1923; died, Seattle, WA, June 28, 2000.)  A hard-hitting tackle who was a versatile two-way player, Arnold G. Weinmeister joined the A.A.F.C. Yankees from the University of Washington in 1948.  When the A.A.F.C. folded after the 1949 season, Weinmeister moved to the N.F.L. Giants, where he played for four seasons (1950-53).  He was an all-League choice in 1949 and all four of his years with the Giants.  Weinmeister then sued for the right to play in Canada and won, finishing his career as a player-coach with British Columbia of the C.F.L. in 1955.  He later became an organizer and executive with the Teamsters union in the Pacific Northwest.

About This Dictionary

The Bill Shannon Biographical Dictionary of New York Sports is an open database of sports biographies maintained by Jordan Sprechman and Marty Appel. We welcome public and scholarly contributions and suggestions.

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About Bill Shannon

A prolific author, wire service sports reporter, long time Major League Baseball official scorer, football statistician, sports museum founder, theatrical agency owner and public ... read more

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